Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Overheard

One Step Forward…

I was looking this evening through the footnotes for Roman Rosdolsky’s The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’. Among the gems Rosdolsky quotes is this exchange, written by Marx to Engels in April 1851 (ftnt. 11, p. 3):

I am so far advanced that I shall be finished with the whole of the economic shit in five weeks. And when that’s done I’ll draft the economics at home and throw myself into another science in the Museum. It’s beginning to bore me. At bottom this science has made no progress since A. Smith and D. Ricardo, however much may have happened in investigations into particular topics, which are often of extreme intricacy.

This must make Marx something like the patron saint of workload misestimation…

Trying to avoid the need for such a saint’s intercession, I have (obviously) been neglecting the blog these past few weeks. I’ve been ill – and working… a lot… And getting things done – but much more slowly than I would have liked, and so, in order not to have things drag on, the blog has been left idle… I hope to have something to write for public view again soon…

Which reminds me of another lovely little bit quoted in Rosdolsky – from the main text this time (p. 5) – Engels writing to Marx, who was under pressure to change the order in which he had proposed to write a three-volume series. Engels reassures Marx in this letter that the change in order, while not ideal, would have its compensations:

After this would come the socialists as the third volume, and as the fourth – (the Critique), that is what would remain from the whole – the renowned “positive”, what you “really” want. The matter does have problems in this form, but it has the advantage that the much sought after secret is not revealed until the end, only after the curiosity of the citizen has been pent up for three volumes, thus revealing to him that one is not dealing in patent medicines.

Yes. Precisely. Discipline that reader for three volumes first. (There’s something delightful in this, in terms of the faith it locates in the prospective reader – a reader who would react to three volumes of economics with… suspense, anticipation, and longing for more.)

The Accident of Design

impromptu light fixtures attached to the ceilingSo for the past few weeks, when I’ve been able to fight the crowds to get to my usual spot in my coffee shop (as I type this, one of my postgrad students has walked past and casually asked, “Oh! So is this your office?” I’m getting emails from people I don’t even know, asking whether I’m in my “office”, where the emailer clearly means this place… The regular use of this term for this place has to come from students talking to one another, since I don’t advertise it – er… other than writing about it to the entire net, of course… But no one gets their information from the internet, do they?), my view as I look upward is something like this.

I’m taking these photos on the webcam built in to my laptop, which is not what one would normally call a high resolution device… So, in case it’s impossible to tell what this is a picture of, the photo is meant to show the padded tiles along the walls (yes, folks, I voluntarily place myself in a padded room on a regular basis), looking up toward the purple ceiling. You can see the previously-blogged ceiling power point – the white cord dangling down is the extension I’ve donated to the place, so I can plug in my laptop without scaling the furniture. For some weeks, my extension cord was the only thing regularly suspended from that power point. But recently there have been a couple of additions – the two light fixtures (presently turned off) that have been plugged into the power point, and then clipped with random office supplies to the beam that runs across the ceiling.

garden of eden muralThis gives my regular table a veritable wealth of light sources (all the others have one at most) – the fruits, I suppose, of sitting under a power point. But who am I to argue. I’m used to the interior of this place changing quite often, as the owner stumbles across new objects from which he creates found art. There are some fixtures, such as the Garden of Eden mural next to where I normally sit, which are constants.

But most of these bits and pieces on the ceiling, for example, are new. I’ll just walk in one morning and find – as shown in this photo – that someone has strung a flag, or hung up lots of clear plastic streamers with glistening foil fish taped to them, or found a convenient spot to prop a pair of stray blue legs…

objects dangling from the ceiling

In context, the fact that my table suddenly sprouted two new light fixtures in addition to the one it’s always had… not really that strange…

So I didn’t ask.

This morning, though, the owner wandered over personally with my coffee. His eyes followed the line from my laptop, to the extension board, up the way to the ceiling power point, and then, leaping back – “WTF?! Where did those lights come from?!”

“I thought you put them up,” I said, startled.

“No – no – not mine,” he stepped back to appraise them from different angles. “I like though… I like… They’re very nice…”

And off he wandered, looking pleased.

Now I’m finding myself reappraising the interior: how much of this place, exactly, has he deliberately created? I’ve seen him do some of it – I had assumed it was all his… Now I’m wondering… How much of the regular, ongoing transformation of this place comes from people like me – people who decide to make… just a little change… add just that little bit… to feel more at home… A cord… a light fixture… a pair of blue legs tucked in the corner just so… Maybe even a mural of mutual temptation… Found objects… donated ones… deliberate designs… detritus… How much of this place did the owner discover one morning, to his surprise, and then accept with a pleased “I like… They’re very nice…”

Things I Find Myself Writing on Assignments

“We don’t usually have strong data on the start of mankind.”

Abolishing the Quant/Qual (and Other) Distinctions

So today was the formal logic lecture in our newly designed social research course. In the spirit of the best pedagogical traditions we established in our quantitative methods course last year, my esteemed colleague L Magee set out to instil in our students the virtues of rigour and precision with a thorough discussion of the connections between logical operators, variable types, and research methods. For reasons that quite elude me, the normally intrepid LM seemed however to stumble when it came to explaining to our students the culminating point of one of his slides, which confidently informed:

Interval – constant intervals between values.

Consider temperature:

Arbitrary starting point

But degrees are constant and fixed units

Values are additive: 10 degrees + 10 degrees = 4 days

I’m not clear what the problem with this conclusion is meant to be? Why else were you recommending Lewis Carroll during this lecture, were it not to equip our students to parse conclusions such as this?

Back in the Day

Some of the folks teaching into the social science methods course were having a conversation today about how teaching ages you. Instantly. In the minds of your students, that is – students to whom you immediately achieve the status of a historical contemporary of whatever it is you are discussing in class.

My favourite instance of this was from a course I taught a few years back, where at some point I got into a joking side discussion with an older student who tended to enjoy testing me out. In this particular class, they made some joke about the French Revolution, I responded in kind – and then one of the younger students indignantly protested that they felt left out: “You guys have to understand that it goes over our heads when you do this! I mean, we weren’t even born back then!”

Flying Furby

Blogging may be light this week, as I have travelled to the wilds of Sydney in advance of the Derrida Today conference. I have a severe cold, which will hopefully have subsided before I need to present, but which is currently enabling me to view my surroundings through a disjointed, slightly surreal, lens. So en route to Sydney I found myself distracted by the following sign posted near the Skybus boarding area:

Skybus regrets that food, drink and pets are not allowed on board.

To which someone had added the convincingly stencilled amendment:

People are permitted, reluctantly

Flying Furby ToyThen on board the plane, I noticed the following list of items “Prohibited at all times on board the aircraft”:

Cellular phones, transceivers, FM/AM radios, pocket pagers, radio controlled devices, printers, television receivers, audio equipment with wireless controls and Furby toys

Never much liked Furby toys myself…

Moving In

I often work on my laptop in the coffee shop. Read more of this post

That Philosophy Woman

Someone just wandered past as I sat in my coffee shop, laptop at the ready, works by Derrida and Spivak scattered around. They did a quick double-take, walked over to my table, and burst out: “Hey! Are you that philosophy woman?”

Is there supposed to be only one of us?

Weekend Relations

My coffee shop has recently begun opening on weekends. Read more of this post

Uneventful Conversations

Random comments made to me today in and around the seminar on Badiou’s Being and Event:

Someone: “I liked your comments yesterday. Are you a mathematician?”

Me: “No, no – not at all.”

Someone: “Huh… Well… You sound like a mathematician.”

Someone #2 (in a separate interaction): “So… what do you teach?”

Me: “Research methods mainly.”

Someone #2: “Research methods?”

Me: “You know, ethnography, statistics…”

Someone #2: “Did you say statistics? You?! Statistics?!”

I gather from these interactions that random impressions of my mathematical acumen vary greatly…

Someone #3: “So why are you coming to this?”

Me: “Oh, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing on Hegel and Marx for the past couple of months. I had a big presentation last week. I just wanted to take a week off to read something completely different.”

Someone #3 (long pause): “You know… there is fiction…”